Richard Wright, this year’s recipient of Britain’s Turner Prize, began his career as a figurative painter working on canvas. When he abandoned that medium he destroyed his entire existing body of work. Those paintings on canvas, he said, were rubbish, influenced by ideas connected to another time. Wright wanted to work in the present, to make paintings that were part of the immediate world. So he began to create art that was designed to be destroyed, designed to exist only temporarily before being reabsorbed by the space surrounding it. Wright’s paintings are now entirely contextual. He creates work for specific architectural spaces, injecting new meaning into previously overlooked corners of our existence. His subtle, ambient designs imbue physical space with emotional content, expanding our understanding of both space and our own role within it.
The art is defined by its fragility, both physical and temporal. Wright’s delicate, curvilinear designs don’t only echo organic forms. Because they are fleeting and profoundly mortal, they essentially are organic. Each work has a lifespan of weeks, perhaps months, before it is rolled over with white paint – leaving the art to exist only in the memories of those who have seen it.
By its very nature, Wright’s ephemeral work exists outside the market. It cannot be traded, collected or owned. And the impermanence of his creations serves to undercut the idea of the object as eternal, directly confronting our notions of continuity and existential persistence. Wright disrupts a primordial human narrative by forcing us to view space and time as fragments rather than as a continuum – thus leaving us to wonder what, if anything, will connect our future to our past.